This month marks my one-year anniversary at Smashwords. I started with His Name In Lights, which had been published previously, and now have sixteen items up, ranging from hard SF to non-fiction to fantasy. Short stories, novellas and novels.
Here are a few things I’ve learned in the process shared here for the beginning self-publishing writer.
1. You know Amanda Hocking, and Joe Konrath and them?
Yeah, you are going to forget their names and the fact that they’ve had phenomenal successes right now. They exist in a different universe where possibilities and probabilities have been interchanged and where luck smiles down on everyone. That is the universe you’ll find if you take a right turn at the sign that says winners only. But the way is almost always blocked.
2. Don’t expect anything
That way, you’ll be pleased with modest successes, because modest, they will be. Most of the successful self-publishers have a few things in common: they have already sold well in paper or, they have a large stable of available novels, preferably both. They are also likely to have a fair bit of experience in the literary world. And luck. See point 1.
3. First, make sure you can write
This issue should be an open door, but you only need to visit the Kindleboards briefly to see that some authors rely on their Amazon reviews to tell them what’s wrong with the book. For crying out loud, don’t slap your first finished novel on there without having an inkling of whether it’s actually any good style and technique wise. Join a workshop, a critique group or similar. Do they tell it it’s all fine and dandy? Go and find someone who tells you your writing sucks. Listen to this person’s arguments. Tighten your prose. Fix meandering plots. Learn to write. Sell a few short stories first. I made the pact with myself that I wouldn’t self-publish until I had met the criteria to join SFWA as full member. Make sure you can write. I cannot say this clearly enough.
4. Don’t go overboard with expenses – make your writing self-sustaining
Remember point 1? Your sales are likely to be very small initially. If you have numerous titles, it is easy to spend lots on covers, formatting and editing. Most of that money will take a long time to recoup. If you get discouraged, you’ll never recoup it.
Editing is expensive. Any editor who charges $200 can’t possibly do a good job, because of the amount of time it takes. A good editor will charge at least $1000. That’s a lot of books to be sold. You have to remember that editing enhances a work. It does not save it. If you need editing to save your work from bad grammar or bad plots, go back to point 3 (in other words: learn to write). Do the best you can and then swap books with a fellow self-publisher for an el-cheapo copy-edit. You may get all the missing words and other things spellcheck doesn’t pick up. You may not. But the level of error will be within acceptable levels.
5. If you’re going to spend money, do it on the cover first
A professional cover artist is expensive. There are countless people on DeviantArt who will do a decent job for not all that much money. Alternatively get Photoshop and do something yourself. No, it won’t be professional, but it can be two other things: pretty and effective. Pretty and attractive draws eyes on crowded web listings. Make up a few alternative covers and ask people what they think about the cover and what they think the cover suggests the book is about (the latter should match your genre). Adjust according to comments. Use it for the book until you have sold enough to justify a good cover artist.
6. Many roads lead to Rome
Don’t forget to keep submitting your work to traditional publishers. Having published in both ways can reinforce your name. There is no need to be snobby about ‘the publishing industry’. Unless you know a lot about it, and can demonstrate that knowledge, you’ll just end up looking like a dick.
7. Paid advertising does not work
Goodreads ads, Facebook ads, I’ve heard very few good results. They may work once you’re a known name, but for an unknown, you’ll end up sounding like every other wannabe out there. Only more desperate. Desperate is bad.
8. Don’t forget to keep writing
The only thing that’s sure to increase your sales is the release of a new book.
9. Whichever way you publish, making sales is never easy
See point 7. Every promotion activity has limited effect. Books sell because of the cumulative effect of the cover, the blurb and various other factors, such as author name. But until you have a name, your name won’t sell. Building a name is not easy. It’s slow and happens through a great variety of factors, the most important one of which is to write a gripping book. Yelling into a mass crowd ‘buy my book’ is very unlikely to be successful.
10. Love your books
Because at times, you’ll feel nobody else does. Treat your finished books with love and respect. Don’t disparage them, don’t talk them down.